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Trying to Make Sense of the Chaos – Impressions from Design West 2012

Comments(0)Filed under: Intel, embedded software, ARM, software, UML, Design West, test, SysML, operating systems, Embedded Systems Conferences, embedded systems, software development tools, OS, chaos

Walking the show floor of "Design West," the show formerly known as "Embedded Systems Conference," I was as confused as ever. This was the most diverse exhibition I have ever been to. The 222 exhibitors varied from vendors offering system-level modeling with UML/SysML, lifecycle tracking, automated test and verification tools, compilers, operating systems and related services, board design and microcontrollers to exhibitors sorted by application domain in zones for "Multi-core," "Sensors in Design" and "DesignMED" (for medical applications), all the way to the "close-to-embedded" EDA vendors Mentor and Cadence (Synopsys was present at the ARM booth).

When I came back I charted the number of vendors per product area as they were advertised on the web. The chart looks like this, exactly confirming my impression of a very fragmented set of products all under one roof:

Still in confusion, I went back and looked at the latest market data I had from VDC on vendors in this space. The fragmentation looks like modern art:


On the horizontal axis, this chart shows the relative market size for four main product areas -- tools, operating systems, system modeling and test. More specifically, they are as follows:

  • Embedded Software Development Tools like debuggers, compilers, and linkers
  • Operating Systems and related services for Android, Linux, Embedded OS and Real Time Operating Systems
  • Tools for system modeling, split into tools using proprietary modeling languages dominated by The Mathworks, and tools using standards based languages. Here SysML and UML enable an ecosystem of companies, IBM being the biggest player.
  • Test Automation tools for static and dynamic software analysis

On the vertical axis, the chart shows the relative size of the players per market. Summing up all this fragmentation, we are arriving at a not insignificant $2.5B market ...

So is there a defining characteristic, holding this all together? Absolutely! The underlying processor architectures are the cornerstones for which all of the vendors at Design West become one large eco-system. According to recent IDC data, in 2011 41% of all semiconductor CPU revenue was driven by the Intel x86 architecture, followed by 38% driven by ARM, 8% by Power, 7% by MIPS and 6% by other architectures.

As a result, Intel and ARM had the biggest booth configurations. In combination with WindRiver, Intel exhibited both the Atom based silicon, as well as the Intel tools under the WindRiver brand. ARM, as a pure IP player not providing silicon themselves, showed enabling tools and software content at their booth, and so did various ARM licensees, like for example Xilinx with the Zynq platform.

So to understand the very fragmented embedded space - to bring order to the chaos, so to speak - one needs to bear in mind the underlying processor architectures for which the various offerings are part of the ecosystem. This is true for us here at Cadence as well. We are part of the ARM ecosystem as well, where, for example, our System Development Suite is connected to ARM models (like ARM Fast Models connected to our Virtual Prototypes), ARM tools (like our Palladium Verification Computing Platform, Rapid Prototyping Platform and Virtual System Platform connected to ARM's debugger RVDS and DS-5) and ARM content (all of the engines booting Linaro enabled Linux). A brief video interview and overview showing how we work together with ARM in the systems domain can be found here.

As fragmented as the embedded space may be, from the Intel/ARM/Power/MIPS point of view it is crucial. Taking some key components away may lead the whole ecosystem to collapse. The future will tell how the dependencies will work out for individual players, and how much more consolidation (like Intel acquiring WindRiver, Cavium acquiring Montavista) this space will see.

Frank Schirrmeister



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